A covert operation is a military operation intended to conceal the identity of (or allow plausible deniability by) the party that instigated the operation. Covert operations should not be confused with clandestine operations, which are performed in secret and meant to stay secret.
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Covert operations aim to secretly fulfill their mission objectives without anyone knowing who sponsored or carried out the operation, or in some cases, without anyone knowing that the operation has even occurred.